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Opinion: An Industry That Has Never Stood Still

After 35 years working in the Irish market research industry, Red C’s Carol Fanagan will retire next week.  Here she reflects on her time in the industry, the changes that have taken place and its bright future.

Next week, March 31st I’ll work my last day in the market research industry, and with retirement comes reflection…

In my view, the industry is in excellent health. We continue to rely heavily on the goodwill of respondents to give us their time, and thankfully Irish people still love to give their opinions, and long may that last!

Demand from clients is as strong as ever – there is still an appetite for real understanding of and insight into consumer attitudes and behaviours. Whilst DIY research is of course possible, it hasn’t really presented a big threat, as clients still need expertise in research design and interpretation – external and independent – which is exactly what we offer.

With market watchdogs ESOMAR (the European Society for Opinion and Market Research) and AIMRO (the Association of Irish Market Research Organisations) very active, standards are being kept high, and GDPR legislation gives research participants protection where required.

Digital Changes

Digital advances have changed many industries and our industry is no different. High quality broadband and investment in online panels has enabled the transition of a substantial portion of quantitative research to online, which has major benefits in being faster and cheaper. Whilst this potentially opens the door to more DIY research, working with research agencies will save time and money in the long run, with their expertise in survey design and delivering real insights.

Online qualitative research has also been a game changer. The pandemic forced focus groups to move to Zoom, which many of us qualitative researchers initially viewed with trepidation, but it’s been transformational. Respondents are keener to participate (as it’s more convenient for them), we can include respondents from all over the country rather than relying on a small number of locations, clients can observe much more easily (no battling with traffic and parking when travelling to viewing facilities) and us moderators get to sit on the couch with a cuppa just minutes after completing our groups. It’s more inclusive too, involving participants who might never have come to a face-to-face group (I recently interviewed a woman while she was breast feeding her new-born baby!).

It’s good to see that the industry isn’t standing still either. We’re constantly striving to use advanced statistical analysis techniques to unearth deeper insights from data. We’re combining client in-house data with research data to provide a fuller picture of their customers and their markets. We’re keeping abreast of the latest thinking in marketing, augmenting our brand research studies with analysis of DBA’s (Distinctive Brand Assets) and CEP’s (Category Entry Points) which provide clients with an additional layer of brand and category understanding.

And the annual Research Excellence Awards run by the Marketing Society of Ireland allows agencies to showcase their best work, giving clients ideas and inspiration and effectively keeping us practitioners on our toes!

B2B Challenges

Business-to-business research remains the most challenging part of the industry. The problem is that we have a relatively small universe, who are heavily over-researched, as the same individuals in each business are being targeting for interview by telcos, banks, utilities etc. And the situation is complicated by more home working making these individuals even harder to reach. We rely on highly skilled telephone interviewers to use their powers of persuasion to coax people to be interviewed, but resistance is growing.

Thankfully there is also still strong appetite among graduates who recognise all the attractions of a job in this industry. They have, however, become more demanding, (though I suspect this is true across all industries). They want to learn, they want to be challenged, they want to see clear career progression, they want to understand and identify with the company’s culture, and they expect hybrid working. It’s harder to keep them too, as today’s graduates like to experiment with a few different industries in the early part of their working life. But for those who stick with it they’ll find a stimulating and rewarding career.

I’ve worked with some amazing people over the years, both work colleagues and clients. I’ve been involved in the launch of new products, new advertising campaigns and new marketing strategies. I’ve interviewed people on topics as wide ranging as banking, insurance, mobile phones, electricity, dairy-spreads, sausages, ice-cream, sanitary protection, sea-fishing, zoos, funerals and the menopause.

Confucius once said ‘choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’. Well, I was lucky enough to find a job I loved so it’s been a lot of fun over the last 35 years. But now it’s time to say good-bye and fond farewell to a first class, fabulous Irish market research industry.


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